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Introduction to Canadian Law

Chapter 1
What is Law?

Law is

a series of rules- rules that govern

the relationships between
individuals, rules that govern the
state (country), and rules that govern
the relationships of businesses and
other associations that exist in

Law is constantly

As societies and
cultures change, their
values and morals
Law should be looked
upon as a running
stream, carrying
societys hopes, and
reflecting all its
values. Chief Justice
Bora Laskin

As Law Students

You will learn that

the study of law is
Students must
learn not only
about the law, but
also about the
society that binds
all people together.


When you break the rules of society,

such as by taking someones
property, swindling someone in
business , obstructing a snowplow on
city streets in winter , speeding, then
various punishments are prescribed.
These rules, applied in our society,
form the law.



As an individual, you are free to do as

you want except for those things
which the law prohibits.
Some people readily accept the rules
readily while others have more
It is for this reason that enforcement
of rules is often necessary.

Laws are different in each


Every country has

its own laws.
However, in some
countries, major
disputes may be
settled by military
Canadians are
governed by the
rule of law.

What is the Rule of Law?

This means that every

dispute will be settled by
a peaceful means,
namely by due
process in the courts,
before appointed judges.
A principle of Justice
stating that the law is
necessary to regulate
society, that it applies to
everyone equally and
that people are not
governed by arbitrary


The ancient laws of other cultures

have influenced the development of
Canadian Law.
In early societies, local customs and
beliefs were the law.
Eventually, these laws had to be
codified, or written down.

Code of Hammurabi

This is one of the earliest

known collections of codified
Hammurabi was the King of
Babylon around 1700 B.C.
He had about 300 laws
codified and inscribed on
stone pillars
Basic premise, an eye for an
eye, a tooth for a tooth
Retribution justice based
on vengeance and
Restitution payment made
by the offender to the victim
of a crime.

Other Ancient Laws

Another ancient law

is the Mosaic Law
which came about
around 1400 B.C.
These laws were the
Ten Commandments
introduced to the
tribes of Israel by

And then there were the


The earliest Roman

code of law, the Law
of Twelve Tables,
was compiled around
450 B.C., and
inscribed on a dozen
bronze tablets set up
in the Forum.
This set of laws
remained in use for
over 1000 years.

Other Law Codes

The Justinian Code was a second set of

Roman laws A.D. 565. The Emperor,
Justinian made the justice system available
to everyone in society- the rich and the poor.
You were innocent until proven guilty.
Later in the 18th century, Napoleon revised
the laws of France into the Code Napoleon
which is the basis for today's Quebec laws.

The Trials

Trial by ordeal used only when the sentence for

guilt was the death penalty, it required a person to
undergo torture to determine guilt or innocence.
Trial by oath helping friends of the accused
would swear on the Bible that he or she was
innocent. From this came the use of juries to decide
Trial by combat determining guilt or innocence
by having the parties fight a duel. From this came
the adversarial system, the judicial process
whereby evidence is presented by two opposing
parties to an impartial judge or jury.

Common Law

In 1066, William the Conqueror defeated King Harold at

the battle of Hastings, and was in control of England. His
grandson, Henry II, tried to bring consistency and
fairness to the law.
Judges (called circuit judges) traveled to villages to hear
cases and began to record the cases and their decisions.
(these traveling courts were called assizes)This helped to
establish a common method of dealing with similar legal
cases, which became known as common law, that is,
that it was common to everyone. (aka. Case law)
As these written reports became available, judges would
follow the precedent or example in deciding a case before
them. This practice led to a principle known as stare
decisis which means to stand by the decision.
This led to the rule of precedent, applying a previous
decision to a case that has similar circumstances.

The Magna Carta

The son of Henry II, King John, was forced to sign a

document called the Magna Carta in June of 1215.
Also called the great charter, it established political and
civil rights for the people of England, based on the rule of
law. No one, not even the king, was above the law.
Also from the Magna Carta came Habeas Corpus, from
the Latin you must have the body, a court order designed
to prevent unlawful arrest by ensuring that anyone
detained is charged before a court within a reasonable
amount of time. This was to determine the validity of the
The idea was to release people who were unlawfully placed
in prison.
Now a part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and

Laws in Canada Today

The English Law is the foundation of the

Canadian legal system, with the exception
of the law of Quebec.
So, Canadian law is base on the laws of
France and England.
French law was codified in extensive legal
texts and is referred to as civil law.
English law was not codified until much later
in history and was known as common law

Common Law and Statute


Common law was judged in the courts with

judges trying cases. Common law is
frequently referred to as case law.
It was combined with the Law of Equity,
where each case must be judged on its
Eventually, many of these decisions were
codified and referred to as statute laws.
Thus, the 2 main categories of law for all of
Canada, except Quebec, are common law
(law of equity) and statute law.